Maurice Harkless and his struggles: 'I feel like I'm just out there'

Maurice Harkless and his struggles: 'I feel like I'm just out there'

PHILADELPHIA – A growing question inside the Trail Blazers’ early season has been the noticeable drop off in production from Maurice Harkless.

The Blazers’ starting small forward is not scoring. He’s not rebounding. He’s not producing much of anything these days

“I just feel like I’m just out there to be out there … I don’t know,’’ Harkless said Wednesday after he had 1 point, zero rebounds, zero assists and zero blocks or steals in the Blazers’ 101-81 loss in Philadelphia.

Harkless has never been a player whose value is best measured by statistics. He is primarily a defender, whose value is enhanced by his ability to switch and guard anyone from forwards to guards on pick-and-rolls.

But in Portland he has also been able to make an impact on offense by getting out in transition, scoring off offensive rebounds, and making quick cuts to the basket.

But little, if any, of those things are happening lately.

“I’m just out there, and that’s frustrating,’’ Harkless said. “I’m just out there playing defense, which is cool … running back and forth. Out there running track.’’

[NBC Sports Gold "Blazers Pass 15-game Blazers package for fans without NBC Sports Northwest $31.50 special until Dec. 1 -- click here to learn more and buy]

Coach Terry Stotts last week described Harkless’ defense this season as “solid … like the rest of the team” but his non-descript play begs the question of how much longer Stotts can afford to start Harkless when the team’s offensive woes are so prevalent?

I asked Stotts that exact question after Wednesday’s loss and received a blank stare. In other words, he didn’t want to address it.

Harkless, for his part, says he wants to contribute more, but is not sure how he can in this offense.

“We gotta figure out ways … not only me, but ways to get other people going,’’ Harkless said. “Every game it’s the same thing … we play through three people.’’

Harkless was referring to guards Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum and center Jusuf Nurkic, who have combined to take 57 percent of the team’s shots this season, which is about on par with what other talented trio take (Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook/Paul George/Carmelo Anthony take 60 percent of the Thunder’s shots while Golden State sees 55 percent of its shots go through Steph Curry/Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson).

 That leaves the likes of Harkless, Evan Turner, Pat Connaughton, Shabazz Napier and Noah Vonleh, to “get in where you fit in” to steal a phrase from Harkless.

“Everybody else is just …. It’s hard to get into a rhythm,’’ Harkless said. “It’s that simple.’’

To be clear, Harkless wasn’t whining, and he wasn’t trying to throw shade on teammates. He was being asked uncomfortable questions about his lack of production and he was trying to give explanations in the most professional and honest way.

“I’m not concerned … I don’t know. We just have to figure something out,’’ Harkless said.

In the last three games, Harkless’ impact has been minimal. Before his quiet night in Philadelphia, he had three blocks and scored two key inside baskets in the third quarter of a win at Memphis, which was the highlight of a 4-point, 4-rebound performance. The game before against Sacramento, he didn’t attempt a shot and finished with zero points, one rebound and two assists in 19 minutes.

Last season, he averaged a career-best 10 points and 4.4 rebounds while shooting 50 percent from the field and 35 percent from three-point range. This year, he is averaging 5.9 points and 3.8 rebounds while shooting 40.6 percent from the field and 24.2 percent from three-point range.

It’s not like this has been a sudden development. Since a sterling debut, when his defense was one of the big talking points of the season-opening win in Phoenix, he has drifted into anonymity. He and I have had a couple talks along the way, addressing and analyzing where he is, and where he fits.

“It gets frustrating at times,’’ Harkless said after the Orlando game on Nov. 15. “I feel like I could bring more to the team. Especially on the offensive end. It just is what it is. The way we are playing right now, it’s just my role right now.

“I’m not going to try and go over the coaches head, or something like that, or complain. I feel like we are playing pretty solid right now, so I just have to do what I can do to help us win. When the shots come, I have to knock them down, and that’s it. I just have to make the most of it.’’

Part of the puzzle in unlocking Harkless is it takes other players to get him going. He rarely has the ball in his hands, and he has to score either on spot-up three’s or while slashing to the basket, both of which require somebody to make a play for him.

“It’s not like, I’m Evan (Turner) - when he comes in the game, he has the ball in his hands and he can shoot whenever he wants to,’’ Harkless said. “I’m pretty much in a position where I’m just waiting around and you have to pass me the ball. A lot of times I’m open and guys may miss me or I make a cut and they miss me. I just have to keep playing, I can’t worry about that stuff.’’

Last season, through the first 18 games Harkless was averaging 10 shots a game. This season, he is averaging 5.6. The difference, of course, is the Blazers now have Jusuf Nurkic.

Instead of Lillard and CJ and a supporting cast, the offense has become the big three and shots have dried up. Perhaps, too, has the movement, as more players know they aren’t likely to be involved.

Lillard, for one, says he tries to remain cognizant of the role players like Harkless, and keep them involved in the offense.

“If you want a guy to go out and rebound and defend and play as active as we want Moe to, you have to give him an opportunity to touch the ball and be involved with it,’’ Lillard said last week. “So I’m always conscious of who hasn’t gotten a shot, who is involved and who hasn’t been involved.’’

Stotts has often tried to start games by running a play for Harkless. And in the Denver game – a game in which Harkless got just two shots – the team turned the ball over twice early trying to get him the ball.

“His shot attempts are a product of the game,’’ Stotts explained, noting he is a player who excels in transition and scoring off rebounds. “And some of it is him looking to take advantage of the opportunities that are out there.’’

So, as the Blazers (10-8) try to gain traction offensively this season, Harkless is trying to figure out how and where he can help. It has been a frustrating endeavor because he understands and accepts his role, but also wants to, and knows he can, help more than he has so far.

“A lot of the things I do don’t show up on the stat sheet, that’s a part of the game we need and I know that’s a part of my role on this team is to do those things, ‘’ Harkless said last week. “But at the same time, I obviously want to produce a little more and get more opportunity to produce. So, I feel like a lot of that I create on my own, whether that be offensive rebounds or whatever. You look at last year, I averaged 10-11 points but a lot of it came from offensive rebounds and transition and stuff like that, and that’s stuff I create on my own.

“It’s frustrating playing and getting only two shots and the game and the game I did get 11 shots (Brooklyn), I made three. So it’s a little frustrating, but I just have to keep going and be ready for when the opportunity comes. It’s been hard with the inconsistency, but it’s part of the game, and it’s just the situation I’m in right now, and I just have to continue make the most of my situation.’’

Simons named to NBA Summer League second-team

simons2.jpg
NBCSNW

Simons named to NBA Summer League second-team

The Blazers were unable to repeat as Summer League champions last week in Las Vegas, but that doesn't mean they didn't have a successful summer. 

Portland's Anfernee Simons averaged 22 points, 4.3 rebounds, and 1.7 assists per game in Las Vegas. To make it more impressive, he did so in just three games. Unfortunately, Simons injured his ankle and did not play in the team's final two games. Despite the injury, the performance of the Blazers' second-year guard still turned heads.

On Monday it was announced that Simons earned a spot on the NBA Summer League Second-Team.

Simons was the only Blazers player to make one of the All-Summer League teams, but he wasn't the only player with Northwest ties to make the cut. 

Former Oregon Ducks star Chris Boucher of the Toronto Raptors joined Simons on the second-team, as did former Gonzaga star, Washington Wizards rookie Rui Hachimura.

Hachimura wasn't the only Gonzaga player to put on a show. Fellow rookie and former Bulldog,  Brandon Clarke of the Memphis Grizzlies was named to the Summer League First-Team and was also named Summer League MVP. 

Spalding launches Dame Time Challenge

usatsi_12579322.jpg
USA Today

Spalding launches Dame Time Challenge

If you don't already know, today is Damian Lillard's 29th birthday. In honor of the occasion, Spalding launched the Dame Time Challenge. The challenge simply asks that fans do their best Lillard impersonation by making shots from as deep as possible and posting the results on social media. 

The shots have come flooding in. So don't miss your chance to let Dame, Spalding, and the world see your best long-distance shot. While you warm up and get the camera ready, here are some of the best #dametimechallege videos out there right now. 

The best of Trail Blazers social: The whole world loves Moe Harkless

The best of Trail Blazers social: The whole world loves Moe Harkless

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. However, it may also be in the algorithm of artificial intelligence. As our friends over at Pinwheel Empire pointed out, the facial beauty network at South China University used its special software to rate the attractiveness of starters in the NBA.

While he may not be a member of the Blazers anymore, SCU's math said Maurice Harkless was the most attractive starting small forward in the league last season. In fact, he was one of the most attractive starter in the entire NBA.

Harkless responded simply,  "the people have  spoken."

But enough of Moe and his beautiful smile. Let's talk about the current Blazers. As is custom in 2019, many of the Trail Blazers players posted on social media this week. From proud dads, happy rookies, and happy birthdays, the Blazers players took to their favorite apps to talk about it. Here are some of the best Trail Blazers social media posts of the week.

View this post on Instagram

Dame Jr

A post shared by Damian Lillard (@damianlillard) on

View this post on Instagram

Mood

A post shared by anthony tolliver (@atolliver44) on

 

 

Looking back: Anfernee Simons top plays from NBA Summer League

screen_shot_2019-07-12_at_7.14.23_pm_1.png
USATI

Looking back: Anfernee Simons top plays from NBA Summer League

LAS VEGAS - Damian Lillard is the now of the Trail Blazers, but the future of the Trail Blazers might be in his protege, Anfernee Simons. 

We've seen plenty of potential from the young guard, who dropped 37 points on Sacramento in the regular season finale. 

He also had a great summer league until an ankle injury prematurely ended his time in Las Vegas. 

Simons led the Blazers in scoring with 35 points in 25 minutes in Portland's third game of summer league. He was in position to tie the game vs. the Jazz, but instead injured his right ankle on his way to the rim on an attempt to hit a game-tying dunk or layup. Simons would sit out the remainder of the summer league due to the injury.

Simons would end summer league averaging 22.0 points, 4.3 rebounds and 1.7 assists in three games played

Summer League Head Coach Jim Moran has this to say about Simons:

“It was fun to watch him run the team... I was happy to see the growth from him, the confidence, picking his spots, getting guys involved. I thought he did a great job. We put the ball in his hands for the last play of the game when he got hurt, that’s the level of trust we have with him. He’s grown a lot.”

For now, let's enjoy the NBA's video of Simons' best plays from summer league:

Why didn't the Portland Trail Blazers utilize the fastbreak more in 2018-19?

Why didn't the Portland Trail Blazers utilize the fastbreak more in 2018-19?

The Portland Trail Blazers were not a good fastbreak team last year. They ranked just 18th in pace, getting out in transition 11 percent of the time and scoring 1.08 points per possession. That low scoring number ranked them in the bottom half of the league.

Their offense in total was of course very good. The Blazers had the third-best offensive rating in the league last season, and the eighth-best points per possession.

Like most teams, Portland's critical statistics — shooting percentages, assist percentages — went up in transition compared to its regular offense. But most importantly, players like Moe Harkless and Jake Layman thrived appeared to thrive beyond their regular production when they were on the break.

That begged the question of whether the way to utilize all of Portland’s assets was to push the pace.

In this week's video, we take a look at how guys like Layman, Harkless, Al-Farouq Aminu, and Meyers Leonard were excellent transition players for the Blazers this year. We also compare how Evan Turner, Seth Curry — and even Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum — may have had an effect on Terry Stotts' decision not to push the pace.

Watch the full video breakdown on Portland's transition game by clicking the video above.

Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard shuts down Shannon Sharpe’s contract criticism

Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard shuts down Shannon Sharpe’s contract criticism

FS1’s Shannon Sharpe thinks Damian Lillard shouldn’t have stayed in Portland.

On the “Undisputed” this week, Sharpe was overly critical of the All-Star guard’s four-year, $196 million supermax contract, saying Lillard will be quickly forgotten if he doesn’t win a championship.

“When’s the last time Dame Lillard took less than the max?” Sharpe said. “So, what Dame Lillard is gonna be is a guy that’s probably gonna make $400 million with no titles.”

He continued: “He’s gonna be one of the richest players in NBA history with zero titles,” Sharpe said. “Nobody remembers the guy who made a bunch of money playing sports, only if you won titles Dame. And if you don’t believe me, ask Kevin Garnett. At the end of the day, if you play a sport, it’s all about titles.”

Lillard caught wind of Sharpe’s criticism of his contract and fired back with this response.

At 28, Lillard still has plenty of time to win a championship with the Trail Blazers, but he has been consistent in his message: he’d rather be a good teammate and person than a ring chaser.

This offseason, Portland added key pieces like Hassan Whiteside and Kent Bazemore to aid Lillard and the Trail Blazers in their journey for an NBA championship. 

From Summer League: Pro Basketball Talk's Kurt Helin hands out off-season grades for the Trail Blazers

From Summer League: Pro Basketball Talk's Kurt Helin hands out off-season grades for the Trail Blazers

We caught up with Pro Basketball Talk's Kurt Helin at NBA Summer League to get his off-season grades for the Trail Blazers.

Helin is currently the lead NBA writer and managing editor at NBCSports.com.  

To start, he gave his grade on the Trail Blazers selecting Nassir Little at pick No. 25.

“This was a top 10 level talent… Give him a chance to develop.”

Helin likes the pick, but wants Blazers fans to keep in mind Little is going to need time to develop.

My Grade: I give the draft pick an ‘B+’ because with Little’s athleticism and the way the Blazers coaching staff has been able to develop shooters, I think Little could have a bright future in Rip City.  

For Helin’s grade on Little check out video here:


Next up, Helin gave his grade on Portland acquiring free agent veteran wing Kent Bazemore.

Spoiler alert: Helin is very excited about “this upgrade at a position in need.”

“Bazemore is loved everywhere he’s played.”

My grade: For Bazemore I have no doubt he’s going to be a great locker room guy and a consistent guy on the court. I give this free agent get an ‘A’. Bazemore will bring the energy every night. He’ll just probably have to adjust to playing big minutes on a winning team. Yeah, you bet he is excited for that adjustment.   

For Helin’s grade on Bazemore check out video here:

And lastly, Helin’s grade on the multi-team trade that now brings Hassan Whiteside to Portland might surprise you. He is not as high on this trade as some other national media members have been.

“It’s a placeholder trade until [Jusuf] Nurkic comes back.”

My grade: I give the trade an ‘A+’ since Portland finally got their guy they wanted three years ago in free agency. Plus, after listening to Whiteside at his introductory press conference on Thursday you can tell he was in need of a change of scenery. I see Whiteside fitting into coach Terry Stott’s system very well and heck, he’s going to be surrounding by shooters. “We got shooters,” to quote Whiteside himself. 

For Helin's grade watch here:

The Scoop Live from Las Vegas: Wrapping up NBA Summer League

scoop_16x9.png
NBCS NW

The Scoop Live from Las Vegas: Wrapping up NBA Summer League

LAS VEGAS - That's a wrap on the 2019 NBA Summer League for the Portland Trail Blazers. After a consolation bracket win, the Blazers finished with a 2-3 record. 

Anfernee Simons and Nassir Little both missed time due to injuries but Gary Trent Jr. shined throughout the week. 

Jamie Hudson gets you caught up with the latest edition of The Scoop, live from the Cox Pavillion in Las Vegas, presented by Toyota of Portland

Summer League Scoop live from Vegas

That’s a wrap on Summer League for the Blazers. Let’s chat about tonight’s game and SL overall! The Scoop brought to you by Toyota of Portland starts now!

Posted by NBC Sports Northwest on Friday, July 12, 2019

Brian Wheeler will not return to radio for Trail Blazers for '19-'20 season

wheels.jpg
Trail Blazers

Brian Wheeler will not return to radio for Trail Blazers for '19-'20 season

Today the Trail Blazers, via a release on their website announced that Brian Wheeler, the long time radio play by play voice of the Trail Blazers will not return to the airwaves next season. 

"Brian Wheeler has been an integral part of the broadcast team and Trail Blazers family since 1998 and his voice is synonymous with all the many great play-by-play calls over that 21-year span," said McGowan.  "We thank Brian for his contributions to the franchise and wish him all the best in his future endeavors. "

Wheeler took a leave of absence for the 2019 playoffs

No announcement has been made in terms of a replacement for Wheeler on the radio side. Travis Demers filled in for Wheels during the playoff run. 

More to come as information becomes available.